Current fellows

Dr Ruth Perrin:  How Faith Changes; Exploring the Experiences of Young Adults in North East England

It is well documented that young adults are a small demographic group within the UK church and that there are many social, economic, emotional and spiritual challenges for the generation known as Gen Y or Millennials. It is also widely recognised that the twenties are a period of identity formation and ‘meaning making’ which includes a consolidation or reformation of the religious beliefs of childhood and youth.  This research project explores how young adults within the region, who had a faith at 20, have experienced the subsequent decade, and how that has effected their beliefs.

Almost 50 young adults aged 29-37 have been interviewed about their experiences of life, church and faith during their twenties. Participants have been recruited from a variety of churches (and snowball sampling used for those who no longer have a faith or are de-churched). Approximately a third are from Newcastle, a third from the Tees Valley and a third from Northumberland in order to provide a picture of experiences from across the region.

A report of findings is due in summer 2018 which will be made available to church leaders and interested others across the North East. It hopes to provide insight into patterns within young adult experience and to consider the ways in which those shape Christian beliefs. There is also an intention to convene a subsequent  symposium to discuss the findings with interested parties.

Paul Bickley: The Spirit of Resilience

The 2008 recession and the subsequent need to bear down on public spending have prompted many thinkers and policy makers to talk about the need for ‘community resilience’ – the ability to ‘bounce back’ in times of adversity. Many have critiqued the concept, arguing that it creates an expectation that communities must learn how to survive, without structurally addressing underlying vulnerabilities.

In resilience thinking there is often a strong emphasis on economic and financial dimensions, but some models have been extended beyond these, allowing for the significance of family, friendship, neighbourhood networks of support. On an individual level, it is also acknowledged that spirituality and religious beliefs can support resilience. However, there has been little consideration of how churches contribute to wider community resilience in the UK context.

The aim of the project is to examine the relationship between churches and community resilience. Do they contribute to it and, if so, how?

The research project will:

  • Bring the idea of community and neighbourhood resilience into dialogue with theological reflection around the ministry of local churches, looking to find both the resonances and dissonances;
  • Consider how the Christian ideas of suffering, endurance and hope tangibly shape the ministry of churches in areas of high deprivation and contribute to a wider resilience in the community;
  • Engage a number of churches in the North East in a participative programme of research developed to uncover how congregations contribute to community resilience and to help them achieve greater understanding and traction in their ministry;
  • Develop proposals on how churches and policy makers could think and act in ways which recognise the public significance of the ministry of churches.

 

Chris Beales: A project to map new housing developments across the North East of England and explore how the Churches are engaging with the new communities being created.

Across the 12 local authority areas of North East England, large numbers of new homes are being built. My research will map significant new housing developments, identifying their scale, density and mix and considering their impact on existing communities.

I aim to find out how Churches (of all denominations) engage (or not) with the residents of new communities and what specific strategies Churches are creating for ministry and mission in these areas. I will also note the involvement of other agencies (councils, voluntary groups, businesses etc). I will take account of how, historically, Churches have engaged with new communities and look, in particular, at some of the housing estates built by William Leech between 1950s and 1980s. I will also study in greater depth a small number of new housing developments.

The challenge for the Churches in mission is how to contribute to “building good community”, imbued with the visions and values of the Gospel, and how to grow local congregations indigenous to the new community.

My end-of-project report will aim to lay the foundations for new strategic thinking and action by Churches and others. It will provide a basis for more subsequent in-depth work across the region.

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